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Relationships for the New Millennium: Becoming Strong Enough to Love


By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.

It was Marilyn's first counseling session with me, but it didn't take long before tears began to stream down cheeks. "I am deeply in love," she wept, "and I'm terrified. I'm thirty-seven, and all I've ever wanted is to be married and have children. Now I've met the man of my dreams, but I'm messing it up," she said, reaching a hand up to wipe away her tears. "I thought it would never happen to me-I thought I was doomed to be an old maid. Now things are wonderful. I've never felt this way about anyone and I don't want to ruin it, but that's exactly what I'm doing! And I can't seem to stop."

"Stop what?" I inquired.

"I can't seem to stop acting like a jerk! As soon as Jeff and I get really close, really intimate, and we're really having a great time, I get terrified and pull away. I withdraw into myself or I get mean. I say terrible things to him. It's like I'm trying to push him away."
"How does he respond to that?" I asked.

"Jeff is such a sweet man. For awhile, he just gave into me, which somehow only made things worse. Now he's getting angry and going silent. I know he won't stand for this much longer. It sounds crazy, but sometimes I think I should just end the relationship now since I'm going to ruin it anyway.

"What's wrong with me? Why am I doing this?"

In the depths of our souls we all yearn for love and connection with others. That yearning reflects a basic, even biological, human need. Infants, for example, thrive physically only when they feel deeply loved and cherished. As adults, we experience wrenching, soul-level loneliness when we don't have love and meaningful connection in our lives, yet all too frequently we don't have these things. Not with our parents or siblings, not with a mate, not even with a best friend.

Why are love, connection, and intimacy so elusive? We sit enraptured at movies that depict two people experiencing the delight of falling in love. We thrill at their discovery of each other, their laughter, their uninhibited joy. We love to read stories about deep friendship, about people committed to truly caring about each other over the long haul. And we yearn for these experiences in our own lives.

Yet when we have a chance to love, the story is a little different. Many clients have told me exactly what Marilyn did: "I am deeply in love-and I am terrified!"

This is because many of us are not strong enough to love: We don't feel safe enough in ourselves to risk loving another. Two major fears get in our way and undermine our ability to love:

...Fear of rejection: the loss of another's love through anger, emotional withdrawal, physical withdrawal, or death.
...Fear of engulfment: the loss of self through being controlled, consumed, invaded, suffocated, dominated, and swallowed up by another.

Until these fears are healed, we will react defensively whenever they are triggered. Marilyn reacted to her fears of rejection and engulfment by withdrawing or being mean to Jeff. Jeff reacted by giving in, then getting angry and silent when that didn't work. You or I might react in different defensive ways, but the result will be the same-our reactive behavior will trigger our partner's own fears of rejection or engulfment. Now both of us are acting out of fear. Together we have created an unsafe relationship space where love and intimacy will gradually erode.

What do I mean by the term "relationship space"? How is a "relationship space" different from a "relationship"?

A relationship space is the environment in which the relationship is occurring. It is the energy created by the two people involved. I think of this environment, this relationship space, as an actual entity that both people are responsible for creating. It can be a safe relationship space, which is open, warm, light, and inviting, or it can be an unsafe relationship space, which is hard, dark, unforgiving, and full of fear. The kind of environment in which our relationship takes place is crucial to its success or failure.

Many of us have spent much time in unsafe relationship spaces. In fact, some of us have never experienced a safe relationship space because many, if not most of us, have not learned to stay open and be strong enough to love when our fears of being rejected, abandoned, engulfed, or controlled are triggered. If, when these fears are activated, we focus on who is at fault or who started it, we perpetuate an unsafe relationship space. Blaming another for our fears (and for our own reactive, unloving behavior) makes the relationship space more unsafe than ever.

Then both people in the relationship end up feeling bad, each of us believing that our pain is the result of the other person's behavior. We feel victimized, helpless, stuck, and disconnected from our partner. We desperately want the other person to see what they are doing that (we think) is causing our pain. We think that if the other person only understands this, they will change-and we exhaust ourselves trying to figure out how to make them understand.

Over time, being in an unsafe relationship space creates distance between the people involved. When we have not created a safe space in which to speak our complete, heartfelt truth about ourselves, the joy between us gradually dies. And the more we hold back our innermost feelings and experiences, the shallower our connection becomes. Our intimacy crumbles.

In friendships, marriages, and work relationships, our joy, electricity, and creativity get lost as we each give up parts of ourselves in an attempt to feel safe. In romantic relationships, passion dries up, then superficiality, boredom, fighting, and apathy take its place. We try valiantly to figure out what went wrong. But too often we ask, "What am I doing wrong?" or "What are you doing wrong?" rather than inquiring into the health of the relationship space itself.

Only when we look at the relationship space will we see what we are each doing to create the unsafe space. The dual fears of losing the other through rejection and losing ourselves through being swallowed up by the other are the underlying cause of our unloving, reactive behavior. These fears are deeply rooted in our own feelings of unworthiness. They cannot be healed or overcome by getting someone else's love. On the contrary, we must heal these fears within ourselves before we can share love-give and receive love-with each other.
The key to doing this is learning how to create a safe inner space where we can work with and overcome our fears of rejection or engulfment. Only when you have achieved inner safety can you create a safe relationship space. Any two people who are willing to learn to create their own inner sense of safety can also learn to create a safe relationship space where their intimacy and passion will flourish and their love will endure.

Creating Inner Safety
In order to understand how to begin to create inner safety, we need to look at our behavior in terms of intention. At any given moment, we are either in one of two intentions:
...The intention to learn
...The intention to protect/control

When we are in the intention to learn, our deepest desire in the moment is to learn about what is most loving to ourselves and others, and well as to learn about our fears and beliefs that cause our own and others' unloving behavior. When we are in the intention to protect, our deepest desire in the moment is to avoid feeling and taking responsibility for our painful feelings through some form of controlling behavior.

We have all learned many ways to attempt to have control over not feeling pain: drugs, alcohol, food, TV, gambling, and so on. We have also learned many ways of attempting to control how others feel about us: people pleasing, compliance, lecturing, explaining, anger, and so on. Additionally, while we desire to have control over how others feel about us, we fear being controlled by others, and we may develop various forms of resistance: silence, withdrawal, lateness, incompetence, and so on.

When we do not feel deeply lovable and worthy within, we tend to make others responsible for our feelings of worth. If others like us, we are okay, but if others don't, we feel unworthy. Once we make others responsible for our feelings of worth, we then need to attempt to control how they feel about us.

Let's imagine that our feelings of worthiness or unworthiness are a child within. Imagine what would happen if you actually had a child that you kept handing over to others to take care of and define as worthy. That child would feel scared and insecure most of the time because you, the parent, were constantly abandoning him or her. Yet that is exactly what happens when we make others responsible for our feelings-our child within feels scared, insecure, angry, depressed, and anxious because we are abandoning ourselves and making others responsible for us. It is only when we take responsibility for our own feelings, which we can do through the intent to learn about what is loving to ourselves, that we will feel secure enough to give up the need to control or to resist being controlled.

It is when we accept 100% responsibility for our own feelings of worth, security, pain, peace and joy that we create inner safety. Two people taking full responsibility for all their own feelings stop trying to control each other and create a safe relationship space.

The Six-Step Inner Bonding® Process
Learning how to take responsibility for yourself and move into true personal power is a process, and there is a clear roadmap for this process called Inner Bonding®. Inner Bonding is a six-step process for learning how to take full responsibility for yourself, for moving into personal power, and for creating a safe inner space and a safe relationship space. It is a process that, when practiced over time, enables you to become strong enough to love.
Neale Donald Walsch, author of the "Converstations With God" series, said of the Inner Bonding process:
I am very excited about this material. It takes the truths found in the newest wisdom literature, and renders them functional in every day life. Anything that takes a huge wisdom and turns it into a practical tool is a treasure indeed. It is one thing to behold the wisdom, and quite another to be able to use it.

Step One: Willingness
In Step One, we choose the willingness to feel our painful feelings rather than numb them through substance and process addictions. We choose to become present and mindful of our feelings and emotions. Just as physical pain, such as the pain of cutting yourself with a knife, lets you know that you are harming yourself physically, your emotions, such as anxiety, depression, hurt, anger, guilt and shame, let you know that you are harming yourself emotionally with your thoughts, beliefs and resulting behavior. If we are unwilling to feel and attend to our pain, we will have no way of knowing that we are behaving in unloving ways toward ourselves.

Step Two: Intent to Learn
In Step Two, we consciously choose to learn about what we may be thinking, believing, or doing to cause our painful feelings.

Step Three: Dialoguing with Inner Child
In Step Three, we engage in a written or out-loud dialogue with our pain-the hurting Inner Child-exploring our fears, beliefs and behavior that may be causing our pain. The dialogue is between the compassionate adult part of us and the wounded child part of us.

Step Four: Dialoge with Spiritual Guidance
In Step Four, we open to an inner or outer source of guidance, asking our Higher Self or our Higher Power, "What is the truth regarding the beliefs I have discovered in Step Three?" and "What is the loving action toward myself that would resolve this pain?" We open to receiving these answers through dreams, words that pop into the mind, pictures and images, and feelings. Spiritual guidance communicates with us constantly and in many ways when our deepest desire is to learn about loving ourselves.

Step Five: Taking Loving Action
In Step Five, we take the loving action in our own behalf that we discovered in Step Four.

Step Six: Evaluation
In Step Six, we evaluate: Are we feeling more peace, joy, and an inner sense of safety? Are we feeling more worthy and lovable? If not, we need to go back to Step Four to discover another loving action that will begin to bring about the peace, joy and sense of worth we are seeking.

Practicing this process each time we are in conflict with another, and each time we are feeling anything other than peace and joy, will eventually resolve the fears that lead to unloving, controlling behavior. Through creating a safe inner space and becoming strong enough to love, you will create a safe relationship space where love and passion flourish.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a noted public speaker, bestselling author, workshop leader, chaplain, educator, consultant and facilitator. She is the author and coauthor of eight books, including the bestselling "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?," "Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding" and "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?" Presently Margaret teaches workshops and works worldwide on the phone with individuals and relationships. For information call 888-646-6372 or see http://www.innerbonding.com